How the Power of Touch Helps Kids Thrive

by Sanya Pelini September 22, 2017

Young boy walking hand in hand with his father

Touch heals. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that touch has more power than we could ever imagine. According to the Healing Touch Program, some of the benefits of healing touch therapy include pain and stress relief, faster recovery and mobility after surgery, a strengthened immune system, a deeper spiritual connection, and reduced trauma and chronic pain. There is now evidence that touch affects the brain as well. When the neuroscientist, Jim Coan, subjected 16 married women to a very mild electric shock while they held either their husband’s hand, a male stranger’s hand, or no hand at all, he found that the subjects received immediate relief. This was clearly reflected on their brain scans. While the touch from a stranger did help calm their nerves, the greatest relief was observed if the touch was from their husband, especially if the two shared a high-quality marriage. Long-standing evidence reveals that touch is so deeply a part of being human that it affects our physical, social, and psychological well-being. It has been found to help in kids’ physiological and neurological development, to decrease anxiety, and deepen bonding. Ongoing research also suggests that premature infants gain much from the healing power of touch. Following these findings, “kangaroo care” has now been implemented for premature and full-term infants in several hospitals. Kangaroo care involves holding a naked kid (wearing a diaper only) upright against the bare chest of the carrier. One study, which examined the impact of at least one hour of kangaroo care daily over a period of two weeks, found that recipients of this care were more alert and showed less gaze aversion. They also scored significantly higher in development assessments in the first six months. There have also been suggestions that more touching can help prevent violent and aggressive behavior, and that kids touched often display less aggressive behavior. According to David Linden, the neuroscientist and author of the book “Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind”, there is no substitute for touch. Most forms of appropriate touch deepen bonding by helping build trust and cooperation. Here are a few ways to harness the healing power of touch with your children:

Hug your kids every day

There’s no such thing as too many hugs. Hug your kids as often as you can. It will make you both feel better. Hugging has also been said to calm kids down. The next time your child experiences a meltdown, draw her close and hug her. She might initially resist, but you’ll see that your touch will eventually help calm her down.

Try other opportunities to connect

There are so many ways to connect with your kids. Touch their arms when you’re speaking to them. Touch their heads. Cuddle. Caress them gently or give them a back or a neck rub. Hold their hands. Affectionate touch helps strengthen your ties and conveys trust. Connect even when you’re reading a book or having a conversation by holding hands or inviting your child to sit on your lap.

Play together

Playing doesn’t only help kids’ social and emotional development. It can also provide an occasion for bonding. There are many contact games that both parents and kids can enjoy.

Make the first step

If your kid is anything like mine, she’s probably the one who comes to you for hugs. Instead of waiting for your child to come to you, go to him first. Give him unexpected hugs and kisses. Remember that even a gentle tap on the back can help strengthen your connection. Touch sends a powerful message – perhaps the most powerful kind. A tender squeeze can do and say much more than words ever could.

Sanya Pelini


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